It stands 155 feet tall, weighs more than 400,000 pounds and requires special clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to erect.
North America’s largest portable Ferris wheel, called the Midway Sky Eye, makes its debut at the South Florida Fair, which runs Jan. 12-28.
The wheel, which was manufactured in the Netherlands and had its inaugural run at last year’s Florida State Fair in Tampa, is co-owned by Frank Zaitshik of South Florida Fair operator Wade Shows and Wood Entertainment. The massive structure will take three days to set up at the fairgrounds off Southern Boulevard in unincorporated West Palm Beach.
The crane required to build the Midway Sky Eye will be in place this weekend, ready for the wheel to begin rising as crews on Sunday begin assembling its 500 pieces.
“It’s a heck of an attraction,” said Rick Vymlatil, president and CEO of South Florida Fair and Palm Beach County Expositions Inc. “… Because of its size and all that’s necessary to erect it and move it around, it’s not one of those attractions that’s going to be available at every fair and festival.”
In a news release, the fair compared the ride’s weight — more than 400,000 pounds — to that of an elephant’s, saying the wheel is about 20 times heavier. A more Florida comparison could be made: It is about 167 times the size of a large great white shark, about 360 times the size of a manatee, and about 10,000 times the size of the average bushel of honeybell oranges.
Its height — 155 feet, about 25 times as tall as Gov. Rick Scott — and position under the flight path to Palm Beach International Airport required the fair’s organizers to obtain clearance from the FAA.
It’s the first time in Vymlatil’s nearly 36-year career in the carnival industry that a ride at one of his shows has needed such a request.
In its letter deeming the ride “no hazard to air navigation,” the FAA requires Wood Entertainment to equip the wheel with a flashing red light to warn pilots of its presence — presumably not an issue when the ride in operation, given the more than 524,000 LED lights that will put on a show for those on the ground. The ride features more than 6 miles of wiring to power the multicolored lights, the fair said.
But when the fair shuts down for the night and the ride still is standing in its position about 5 miles west of the end of the PBIA runway, the red flashing light must stay on as a heads-up to pilots, Vymlatil said.
Vymlatil said the wheel has created quite a buzz.
“The amount of interest that the wheel has generated has been amazing, frankly,” he said.
The wheel has 36 gondolas, each able to hold six riders. It will cost $5 to ride the Midway Sky Eye, which is excluded from the fair’s wristband sales.
If you go
What: Midway Sky Eye at the South Florida Fair
When: The fair runs from Jan. 12-28; hours vary by day
Where: South Florida Fairgrounds, 9067 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach
Cost: $5 per ticket; ride is excluded from wristbands
Restrictions: Riders must be 42 inches tall without a supervising companion or 36 inches tall with a supervising companion
Information: 561-793-0333 or www.southfloridafair.com
What’s new at the South Florida Fair?
1. The theme: This year’s theme is “magical parades.” Eight parade floats will be on display in the Expo Center, and there will be daily themed parades, including the Chinese New Year Parade on Jan. 12 and the Rose Petal Parade on Jan. 22.
2. Indoor carousel: The fair for the first time is going to have an indoor carousel, located in the Expo Center.
3. Gourmet popcorn: The West Palm Beach-based Bulk Candy Store is a popular fair feature for its massive tent filled with candy for sale. This year, Bulk Candy Store is adding 16 flavors of gourmet popcorn including peanut butter and jelly, said Rick Vymlatil, president and CEO of South Florida Fair and Palm Beach County Expositions Inc. Popcorn “is a big seller at the fair for a lot of people,” Vymlatil said. “People like to buy it and munch on it as they walk around.”
4. More paved areas and new lighting: Fans of the fair’s agricultural exhibits will have smoother access this year. Vymlatil said some capital improvements were made in the fairgrounds’ off-season, including new paving in the agricultural area and new lighting in the parking lots.
5. A shiny red caboose: An old Seaboard Coast Line Railroad caboose is the latest addition to Yesteryear Village, the 10-acre history park on the fairgrounds’ north side. Vymlatil said the fair has tried to get a rail car for about 20 years, and finally found one that now is on permanent loan from an anonymous donor. It arrived at Yesteryear Village about two weeks ago, he added. Visitors will be able to walk through the car once it is refurbished. “It’s bright red and you can’t miss it when you’re driving into the parking lot,” Vymlatil said.
6. The food: Last year, it was tater tots. This year, it’s hash browns, as one of the fair’s food vendors serves up hash brown sandwiches. Not sure what that is? Take two hash brown patties, and put something edible between them. That’s a hash brown sandwich. And of course the fan-favorite hot dogs, burgers, funnel cakes and fried Oreos will return.
7. The music: New this year to the fair’s live performance line-up are contemporary Christian performer Matthew West, country rock group Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and country singer Chris Lane. Grand Funk Railroad returns for a third performance at the fair. A Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on Jan. 15 will feature gospel performers.